Tuesday 27 September 2016

Those in the middle are being pushed to the edge

The head-in-the-sand approach from bankers, politicians and the EU needs to change, writes Miriam O'Callaghan

Miriam O'Callaghan

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

'The politicians, for the most part, are talking about managing Brexit and the fall-out from it. But, while they are grounded, tinkering with the propellers of the old, familiar politics, the stealth craft of disillusion and disruption are already in the air'. Photo: Bloomberg
'The politicians, for the most part, are talking about managing Brexit and the fall-out from it. But, while they are grounded, tinkering with the propellers of the old, familiar politics, the stealth craft of disillusion and disruption are already in the air'. Photo: Bloomberg

There's a scene in a disaster movie where a man and his little girl are watching a super-volcano explode in the rear-view mirror of their camper van. As they race downhill, inches ahead of annihilation, the little girl asks: "Daddy, what was that?" He replies: "That was nothing... Absolutely nothing."

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When I watched the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, respond to the Brexit vote, it seemed all he lacked was a camper van, a mirror and a daughter. The Canadian was calm. He had a plan - which was channelling Julian of Norwich - 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well'.

Never had a banker been in such need of a mystic.

The EU got its retaliation in straight away with President Schulz's notable 'you made your 40-year bed now lie in it' intervention. How do you like them Euro apples, Remain UK?

Though President Schulz is a socialist, there was no mention of the A-word and how it might be even a teensy bit responsible for the Brexit result, and indeed, for the great falling-out-of-love by members of the EU with its institutions and those who run them.

Austerity is now coming back to haunt the EU as, across the Union, people wake up to how the policy demanded more and more human sacrifice - and they and their families were it.

One by one, electorates have said 'No, our humanity, our belief in and desire for a civil society, can no longer be diminished by Austerity. In our Union of Peoples it is we ourselves - not a particular financial orthodoxy - who are sovereign'.

I love Europe. The Europe of Shakespeare and Heaney and Havel and Mozart and Modigliani and Dante. Not the institutional Europe that has dished up Austerity as the tough medicine we needed, without taking a drop itself. But the medicine was toxic.

It killed more than it cured. And it spread its side-effects of poverty deep into communities and families across the Union, including the UK. For those struggling with those effects, there is disillusion, disappointment, discontent and, above all, a feeling of dispossession - and it is those feelings of dispossession that spoke loudly and clearly in the polling booths last Thursday.

The politicians, for the most part, are talking about managing Brexit and the fall-out from it. But, while they are grounded, tinkering with the propellers of the old, familiar politics, the stealth craft of disillusion and disruption are already in the air.

People, especially the poor, have taken too much. And they didn't have a choice. They do, however, still have a voice, and they are finding it and using it. Across Europe, there is the rise of the extreme right and extreme left. There's talk of walls and fences, of Them and Us, the EU-Turkey deal rubber-stamping the reduction of human life to a commodities deal.

All of this not even a century after we almost wiped a population off the face of the earth.

Positions and hearts are hardening, but there is still time to address and hear the people in the middle. What is needed, too, is courage, imagination and above all the recognition that real change is already here. Brexit and its aftermath might start to reveal, as I have written before, that the Central Banks are pulling levers linked to nothing.

That we are left in our economic silo awaiting our instructions - only when they arrive we find they are for another time, or another model, or another people; they are incoherent, useless to us, for where and who we are now.

That's the test for politicians - to give up the soothing words, the delusion of the certainty from which they have suffered. They have thrown the dice, kicked their cans, stuck their heads in the sand. And in other quarters.

It is time they saw that the people who usually inhabit the middle are being abandoned, ignored and pushed to the edge.

Because they are, they will need to take a leap of faith. The question is how, when and with whom?

Boris Johnson said on Friday that when it comes to the UK, "nothing will change in the short term". The danger is that the same might apply to the mindset of the EU.

Sunday Independent

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